I felt that it was time for me to write a post speaking frankly about my own experience of and opinions about life in Bogota; you might arrive here and disagree, or just not be bothered about the kinds of things which bother me; equally you might not be impressed by the things that I actually like about the city. It will often depend on where you come from (and the comparisons you will make between Bogota and what you were used to before Bogota), and on your initial expectations. In any case, it is only intended to provide one perspective of life in Bogota.
Things I like about Bogota:
1. I can rent my own apartment
It may seem like a small thing, but on what I was earning in my job as an Administrator in London, if I wanted to live in a decent part of London, in a decent flat, I had no choice but to flat-share. This is fine when you’re in your early-mid 20s, but at some point you reach a stage in your life where you just want your own place. If I’d done this in London, I would have been spending more than half of my net salary on rent and bills. Here, I spend less than a third of my salary on renting my one bedroom apartment in a decent area of town (Chapinero Norte), and I can actually save money if I want to.
2. Cheap sushi
There are also a lot of less-cheap sushi options in Bogota (Wok, Osaki, Canoa), but from Monday – Friday you can get sushi delivered before 11pm from Oriental Sushi at 3 for 2 prices. Just call 3123911375, and click on Oriental Sushi for the menu.
3. Going to the cinema
Going to the cinema is cheap in comparison to London (where I’m from); the most expensive seats at Cine Colombia will cost about $10 USD (£7) and on a 2 for 1 day (the day varies according to the cinema chain), you can get 2 tickets for as low as 12,000 pesos ($6, £4) at Cinépolis.
4. The mountains
You can be almost anywhere in the city and always see the lovely green mountains. This is somewhat of a tease, because although they are always ‘there’, they’re pretty much inaccessible. They haven’t been developed for mountain walks in the forest, and it’s even advised not to walk in that area because of the risk of being robbed. But like a beautiful painting on the wall, it is still nice to be able to stare at them when in the midst of the city chaos.
5. Bogota’s surroundings
You can drive (or take a bus) a couple of hours outside of Bogota, and reach some really beautiful country landscapes, hot weather, coffee plantations, lakes etc depending on which direction you drive in. In other words, it’s not difficult or expensive to escape from the chaos, pollution and stress of the city.
6. Good friends
When you actually make friends with someone in Bogota, they will be extremely kind, generous and helpful, and if you meet their family, they will treat you as a family member and make you feel completely at home. You probably won’t feel this generosity and kindness until you cross the boundary into friendship though.
7. Shopping Malls
Bogota has a number of large shopping malls with plenty of familiar brands and a fairly good variety of food to choose from in the food courts. Sometimes it’s nice to feel the comfort of a brand which you’d also find at home, and to escape from the streets and imagine that you’re somewhere else for a few hours!
8. Cheap Taxis
Although the drivers can be reckless and sometimes untrustworthy (check my post “How to get a taxi“) taxis are cheap compared to Europe. The minimum charge is 3600 pesos (less than $2 or £1) and you can make a journey across the city for not more than 15,000 pesos ($7.50 or £5). So if you’re earning a reasonable salary, you can take a taxi when you need to without feeling too guilty about the cost.
9. Sundays and Ciclovía
To me, Sundays feel like ‘the calm between the storms’ in Bogota, weekdays being so chaotic, the public transport system overwhelmed with people trying to travel from A to B, cars hooting impatiently, bus letting off black clouds of fumes every time they hit the accelerator.. Whereas on Sundays, the main roads are closed to traffic until 2pm to allow walkers, cyclists, skaters and skateboarders the freedom of the roads. I talk more about this in my post Sundays and Ciclovía, if you want to find out more about this lovely tradition!
Things I dislike about Bogota
1. Public Transport
Public transport in Bogota amounts to the Transmilenio bus system (which mostly operates in its own lanes, so usually won’t get stuck in traffic), the SITP buses (public buses which you pay for using a pre-paid electronic card (like the London Oyster card)) and busetas (privately-owned buses which are very old and can usually be spotted from the black smoke they frequently emit). There are also yellow taxis (which are cheap compared to European cities). The roads are in such a bad condition in many places that many bus rides feel like a death-ride with bumps sometimes strong enough to provoke a miscarriage in pregnant women I shouldn’t wonder, the bus drivers are usually indifferent to public safety, as they often brake harshly, close the doors when people are still boarding or even start moving while people are still trying to get off. And you’ll often spend the journeys standing up, being shoved from side to side by elbows, pushchairs and people who generally just don’t give a s**t about their fellow commuters.
2. Taxi drivers
It’s a bit hit and miss with regards to the kind of driver you get. Some are friendly and reasonable drivers; others will deliberately take the longest route possible and try to overcharge you when you arrive at your destination, driving carelessly at best.
Largely thanks to the old and badly maintained buseta buses, the city is very polluted in some areas, to the extent that if you go to Simon Bolivar park or the Botanical Gardens, the difference in air quality is striking. Bogota is not a friend to asthma sufferers.
Whilst the people you make friends with here will probably become some of the best friends you’ve ever had, other people will often come across as inconsiderate, self-serving and self-interested, as they push you out of the way, neglect to say ‘thank you’ when you hold the door for them, push to the front of queues, and sometimes take advantage of the fact that you’re an unsuspecting foreigner.
5. Customer service
If you’re used to US customer service standards, or even the reasonable UK standards (in comparison!), prepare yourself for a completely different culture here. Unless it’s a big chain like Bershka or Zara, don’t expect to be able to fight for a refund if there’s a thread sticking out of your trousers; if you’re unsatisfied with the service or food in a restaurant, don’t expect a discount; don’t expect people to be running to assist you if there’s a problem (unless they’re trying to sell you something). That’s not the way things work in Colombia.
Colombian food is heavy in meat and carbs and I find it generally uninteresting compared to other world cuisines. If you travel to the Caribbean coast, you will be able to find some delicious fish, and if you go to Wok or Osaki restaurants, you will enjoy the sushi (if you’re a fan); but the Colombian food itself is nothing to shout about, in my opinion.
7. The cost of living
Apart from rent and the cost of public transport and taxis, which are cheap compared to London, everything else is as expensive or more expensive than in London. Food (cereal – £5 for a big box), clothes, cosmetics (shampoo – £4 for a medium-sized bottle of Dove), flights, electronics.. Bogota is not a cheap city to live in.
If you are regularly having to travel across the city for work using public transport, which is often the case if you start working as an English teacher here unless you’re based at an institute or school, life is stressful and tiring, because the conditions on public transport are not good and the traffic is appalling during rush hour. If you’re not earning a good salary (say $2 million pesos or more per month) you will need to budget on food and rent, and won’t be able to save much for travelling around or going out. If you get sick and need to see a doctor, you might end up sitting in a hospital waiting room for a day (which is what happened to a friend of mine when she got a kidney infection). All of this can amount to a lot of stress, especially if you’re also feeling homesick and missing your friends and family back home; these are things to seriously consider before you move to Bogota.
Compared to London, the weather is actually good. It can be very changeable (sunny in the morning, heavy showers in the afternoon, cold in the evening) and you should always leave your place prepared for all types of weather (except snow). During the rainy season the weather can be just plain depressing, as it monsoons every afternoon and whether you have an umbrella and wellies or not, at least part of you will get soaked through – add this to the stress of taking public transport, the pollution, the impossibility of getting a taxi when it’s pissing down.. and this can be a pretty miserable situation! The good thing though is that you do get a fair amount of sunshine in comparison to the UK, and this does make a nice change.
Would I leave Bogota to live somewhere else if I could? Yes, I’m quite sure I would. I’m here because my partner lives here and has his work and family here. If he got a job somewhere else tomorrow, I would most likely jump at the possibility of living somewhere else! However, no place is without it’s problems; for now, we’re here and – in many ways – we’re enjoying a very decent quality of life.
I hope that these thoughts are useful, and please do leave a comment if your experience has been different, or if you have any questions.